The Prestige

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Prestige
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

A magic trick consists of three acts. In the first act, the pledge, the magician shows us something ordinary. Act two, the turn, changes the ordinary into something extraordinary. Act three, though, twists things around to where a life can hang in the balance and we are shown something we have never seen before. This final, shocking act is known as “The Prestige.”

Writer/director Chris Nolan’s latest work, on prestidigitation, was preceded, recently, by another period movie about magic, “The Illusionist.” But, the two films couldn’t be more different as Nolan, working with a script by the helmer and his brother Jonathan, tells a story of rivalry and obsession.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are two up and coming young magicians in turn of the century London where their craft wows the audiences that crowd the theaters to be amazed. Their friendship is destroyed, though, when Alfred takes liberty with a dangerous act that ends in the death of Robert’s beloved wife, Judith (Piper Perabo). Rivals, now, the two devote their energies to finding the most astounding feat of magic ever seen. All the while, Robert is consumed with seeking revenge against the man who ruined his happy life.

Taking a page from his fascinating debut film, Memento,” Nolan, like the tricks he portrays on the London stage, twists and turns the action as Angier and Borden try to out do each other and, in the process, uncover the secrets of the other’s most mystifying act. The story moves from London to Colorado Springs as Robert seeks the help of scientist Nicola Tesla (David Bowie) who is working on an invention that will, if successful, transport a man through space in the blink of an eye. Angier devotes his fortune to finance Tesla’s research but never loses sight of his revenge on Borden.

Alfred is making a name for himself on the London stage with his own feat of teleportation that keeps the audiences, and Angier, wondering if he has transcending mere trickery to create genuine magic. Both men will stop at nothing to gain the upper hand as Robert places a mole, his assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), into Alfred’s fold to uncover his secret. Borden, too, using his talent for disguise, strives to get into his rival’s mind.

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman lead the capable cast and give depth to their characters, with Bale the magical technician and Jackman the consummate showman, each with his own agenda in their duel. Michael Caine anchors his ingeneur, Cutter, the man who is the behind the scenes designer of illusions, easily manning the role as the film’s narrator and confidant to Angier. David Bowie, nearly unrecognized, at first, as inventor Tesla, does a fine job as the techno wizard who creates Robert’s most astounding trick ever. Rebecca Hall, as Alfred’s wife, Sarah, gives a layered performance as she is troubled by her husband’s seeming ability to love her one day and not the next. Scarlett Johansson is the weak link in the finely crafted chain of “The Prestige,” putting on an unconvincing British accent and is mere eye candy, unconvincing as crafty Olivia. Andy Serkis, known to most as the voice and physical model for Golum in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is fine as Tesla’s assistant, Alley.

This is a lavish production that portrays a world on the technological cusp of the fast approaching 20th century and the wonders that it will bring. The miracle of electricity is well shown in Robert’s journey to America to find the ultimate illusion. Cinematographer Wally Pfister adds a period luster to his skillful photography of Victorian London and the cold clime of Colorado. Production design, by Nathan Crowley, suits the interesting script with nicely composed magic tricks and accurate-feeling sets. Costume designer Joan Bergin clothes her cast in a way that is in sync with the rest of this well-made movie.

The Prestige” is the kind of thought provoking film that keeps you guessing until the very end, something that most films fail to do. This intricate tale uses behind the camera sleight of hand to create an intriguing film that peppers you with clues about the outcome. I’m not telling much about this intricacy, leaving the pleasure to you, the viewer, to figure out what’s going on – if you can. Chris Nolan has firmly established himself as an innovative, A-list director who knows how to tell a story. I give it an A-.

Laura did not see this film.
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